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Quotes of the Week: Achievements in Video Game Scoring

Guardian.co.uk‘s Naomi Alderman notes that the annual Ivor Novello Awards will include this year, for the first time, one for “best original videogame score”:

Game music has long been the venue for “earworms” — pieces of music that get stuck in your head. Anyone who ever played Tetris on a Gameboy will have the Soviet-style theme etched on their brain. And the chipper Super Mario tune is similarly unforgettable. But with technological developments audio quality has improved as much as graphics and the earworms have become more sophisticated.

And while the acknowledgment by the British professional music community of the role music plays in video games is appreciated, the award (pictured in silhouette below) could prove shortsighted.

Background music in video games is important, but the most innovative and expressive work in gaming these days isn’t about Hollywood-style scores of static music that plays in the background, but in (1) sound design, (2) music that changes as the game progresses, and (3) most importantly, games in which the music is manipulated by players. Alderman notes the latter (“from ElectroPlankton for the DS to Singstar, and the Guitar Hero and Rock Band games”), but we’ll have to wait to see how the Ivors wrestle with this conundrum. Will they solely focus on static scores, or will they reward the music that, to one degree or another, more fluidly interacts with (or is even the object of) game play.

Statements in a piece by Adam Sherwin at timesonline.co.uk from Mark Fishlock, director of one of the awards’ sponsoring organizations (BASCA, the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors) and an Ivors-committee member, get to the heart of the tension. On the one hand, Fishlock sees validation of video gaming in the adoption of traditional methods:

“The Ivors has always sought to reflect the ever-changing world of songwriting and composing. The video games market has matured beyond recognition and big budget orchestral scores are regularly being commissioned.”

On the other hand — and this is promising — he acknowledges the unique challenges and potential in game music:

“Writing music for games also requires a number of specialist skills compared with conventional film scoring, such as non-linear and multi-layered composition.”

Joystiq.com‘s Mike Schramm notes that for a game to be eligible, at least one third of the composers involved need to be “British or Irish.”

More on the awards at theivors.com.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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